Monday, June 28, 2010

Best Worst Movie: It's So Bad -- It's Bad

Best Worst Movie: Poster | A Constantly Racing Mind
E very now and then, I’ll watch a film that I find is really awful.  Not so much that the ideas in the film are bad, but the acting is terrible, or the film lacks in production values.
Such is the case with the film Troll 2, released in 1990.  However, after 20 years the film has made an impression on audiences that is laughable.  This review is not about the film Troll 2, but on a documentary film directed by the child-star of that awful film, Michael Paul Stephenson.  Four years ago, after getting over the shame of being in one of the worst films of all time, Stephenson started finding that people across the country, not only enjoy the film, but also have turned it into a cult classic.  Embracing his childhood claim to fame, Stephenson put a crew together and filmed what today he calls the Best Worst Move.

It's A Documentary Not A Film

Instead of detailing the making of Troll 2, Stephenson takes a fun look at the journey that the film  has made in the last 20 years along with the people involved in the making of the film.  At the age of 12, Stephenson realized that the film he starred in was horrible, what is remarkable, is that the fans of Troll 2, do also.  Focusing his film on George Hardy, the man that played Stephenson's father in the film, Stephenson shows not only George’s acceptance as a bad actor in a terrible film, but also how George takes his appearance in the film in stride and turns it into a positive.  Stephenson also devotes a good portion of the Best Worst Movie to Troll 2’s director Claudio Fragasso.  Immediately the viewers understand is that the Best Worst Movie is not a self-serving attempt to self-promote Stephenson, but to illustrate two characters looking at the same picture but seeing remarkably different points of view.  

George Hardy was a practicing dentist in Utah in 1989, and on a whim, he tried out for the part of Michael Waits with an Italian production company that was filming in rural Utah.  Upon seeing the final film on VHS 20 years ago, George realized immediately that his career as an actor was over and returned to fulltime dentistry.  Recently, Troll 2’s status as a cult classic renewed George’s interest in the film.  George starred as the father who took his wife and two kids on a vacation to the rural town of Nilbog (goblin backwards) where vegetarian goblins plague his family.  Hardy now embraces his cult status.  Still a practicing dentist in Alabama, four years ago, George, and director Stephenson traveled around the country interviewing members of the cast and getting their feelings on how the movie Troll 2 affected their lives.

The Celluloid Cult Classic

Meeting with fans that host their own Troll 2 parties annually, Stephenson's documentary shows how fans "get into" the film by the way they reenact their favorite scenes.  Audiences frequently interact with the actors on the screen, and come to the parties dressed up in burlap sacks and homemade-goblin masks.  Did I mention there are no Trolls in the film?  At the viewing of the Best Worst Movie, in Tucson, fans wore green NILBOG T-shirts and held paper goblin masks.  The Troll 2 phenomenon has grown in small towns across the United States to larger cities like Los Angeles and New York.  Director Stephenson and dentist/actor George Hardy traveled to these venues, documenting the fans and the growth in popularity of this immensely bad film.  Finally welcomed on stage after 20 years of hiding the fact that he was in this terrible film, Hardy’s fans cheer him on as the movie star he once hoped to become. As part of a ritualistic performance, George acts out, probably one of the funniest and cheesiest scenes in the Troll 2 movie, the, “You can’ piss on hospitality” scene. 


Best Worst Movie: George Hardy| A Constantly Racing Mind

The Actors

While you don’t get to see the whole film Troll 2, you do get to see scenes of the actors repeating bad dialog and terrible acting from twenty years ago.  A short interview near the beginning of the film with Hardy's parents clues the audience in that the Best Worst Movie is going to be a fun 90-minute joyride.  In the interview with Connie Young, the girl who played Holly Waits, Stephenson's older sister in the original film, she told how she argued with Italian director Fragasso, concerning the dialog, insisting that American kids don't talk that way.  Fragasso, who could barely speak English at the time, was incredulous that an American girl would tell him, the experienced Italian filmmaker, how to write dialog for Americans.  After the Troll 2 experience, Connie would attend auditions, not mentioning her work in the film, and casting directors would recognize her as that girl from that, "awful movie.”  Connie read the comments on IMDB, shocked to find that the reviewers wanted to do her bodily harm for her poor performance in the film.  To this day Connie, who still acts and lives in Utah refuses to list Troll 2 on her resume.


Insanity Calling

Don Packard, the weird old guy who played the disturbed drugstore owner in the rural town of Nilbog, is, in fact, one-step away from insanity.  The wild and rambling interview with Packard, who, in 1990 was on leave from a mental institution, claims to have no idea what was going on at the time when he was making the film.  Telling the now 31-year-old Stephenson, "there was this 11 year old kid on the set that I just wanted to kill.”  The boy, of course, is Stephenson, and in a Skype interview with the director after the documentary, Best Worst Movie, Stephenson admits that Packard scared him 20 years ago, and still scares him today.  Stephenson interviews the man who played Grandpa Seth in the film, stage actor Robert Ormsby's, which was probably the only time in the film that the audience stopped laughing and cast their eyes down in sadness.  Like the lead actors, Ormsby thought that Troll 2 was a step into stardom and full time work as a film actor, but instead as he says in the documentary, "I've wasted my life."

Delusions of Grandeur

Some parts of the Best Worst Movie are awkward and strange.  When contacting the woman that played Stephenson's mother, the audience is wondering if the surreal lifestyle of the secluded Margo Prey was staged or real.  After driving around Salt Lake City, Hardy and Stephenson found the house where Prey lived.  A sign outside the door with an ominous warning that she would call the police on anyone other than US Postal workers intimidated and frightened both Stephenson and Hardy.  However, the two went to the door to talk to their former cast mate.  After some coaxing, she granted the two the interview.  Margo, unmarried, and taking care of her elderly mother is a caricature of the deluded, faded movie star living in fantasy world where she still has an acting career.  Talking fondly about how wonderful the experience of filming Troll 2 and how beautiful a film it was, both Stephenson and Hardy were shocked at her recollection of the making of the film as theirs differed from Margo’s significantly.  Every scene in the Worst Best Movie is hilarious and well done.  On one hand, you wonder if director Michael Paul Stephenson is mocking the woman, but ultimately you see the sadness in both his and George's eyes and realize that their friend, Margo is in a complicatedly deluded place in her life.

In contrast to Margo's delusions of stardom, director Claudio Fragasso’s issues run deeper.  The veteran director of 23 films, most of them in Italian, believes that Troll 2 is a brilliant film.  He just wonders why it took the American audience so long to figure that out.  Fragasso and his wife Rossella Drudi, who wrote the story about evil vegetarian goblins, received an invitation from Michael to come to the United States and celebrate revivals of Troll 2.  Stephenson took Fragasso and his wife to several screenings to sold out theaters, and although Fragasso was happy that the audiences laughed at the funny parts, he was disturbed that they laughed at the unfunny parts as well.  Arguing with the reunited cast inside the crowded theater, the 51-year-old director had a few choice words about the cast and audiences understanding of his masterpiece.

Playing At Your Local Independent Cinema

Troll 2 is neither a sequel to Troll nor a part of the Troll series whatsoever.  Originally, titled Goblins, the distributors of the film changed the name; seemingly, to take advantage of the popularity of a then recently released film named Troll.  Distributors never released Troll 2 to the American filmgoers; instead, they released it on VHS format in 1990/91.  For a long time, Troll 2 has held a one-star rating on IMDB, but has now gained an additional star.  However, Michael Paul Stephenson's Best Worst Movie is by far a better film than many blockbusters out today. 

Director Stephenson shows off his skill as a documentary director with his excellent camera-work, intelligent editing, and focusing of his attentions on the one member of the cast that is the most likable and friendliest dentists around, George Hardy.  Having completed his four years of therapy by creating the Best Worst Movie, Stephenson celebrated the birth of his child last week and was unable to attend the Tucson screening of the Best Worst Movie.  Determined to connect with his fans, Stephenson and the Tucson's The Loft Cinema held a Skype interview that displayed the young director from his home in Los Angeles on The Loft's 50-foot screen.  Stephenson answered audiences' questions and his biggest wish was to be able to see the audience that showed up for his film.  The Loft Cinema's Program Director, Jeff Yanc, turned the laptop's camera towards the audience, and Michael's face lit up with happiness.  I found the Best Worst Movie extremely funny, and I found myself smitten with the film.

Movie Data
Genre: Documentary
Year:  2010
Staring:  George Hardy, Lily Hardy, Pita Ray, Claudio Fragasso, Connie Young 
Director: Michael Stephenson
Producer(s): Brad Klopman, Jim Klopman
Writer: Michael Stephenson
Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 93 minutes
Release Date: 10/10/2014